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Photo Credit: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

It’s probably time to send Rasmus Sandin down

I’m assuming this is something that no one wants to hear. I’m also assuming that sending Sandin down when Martin Marincin is sitting right there isn’t something that agrees with you, but hear me out. There’s some reasoning behind this, and it’s not the usual, “if you are only going to play him 10 minutes a night” nonsense either. Playing 10 minutes a night in the NHL is probably a lot better for Sandin than playing 20 minutes a night in the AHL. The bigger issue is those 10 minutes a night haven’t gone particularly well.

I went into this year wanting to view how Sandin does, game by game, and the results are below…

data from NaturalStattrick.com, game 54 xGF% should read 48.12

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A few takeaways from this is the number of different partners Sandin has had over the season. He’s played a lot with Ceci, Barrie, and Liljegren under Sheldon Keefe, and primarily Marincin and Holl under Babcock. At no point was he given the chance to play with Dermott, Rielly, or Muzzin in a significant way, but that’s not really surprising given that they are all left side D. That puts a pretty significant limit on the amount of heavy lifting Sandin’s partner can do for him, and you could argue that when Sandin has been out there he’s always been the most talented defenseman on the ice for the Leafs.

Additionally, you can the consistently poor relative xGF% is driven more by xGF numbers rather than xGA, as the Leafs haven’t been producing much in the way of offense when Sandin is on the ice, as he primarily sees time with the bottom six forward group, although he’s also often facing the bottom six group of the opposition. Oddly enough, Sandin has a better xGF% when on the road and Keefe has less control over who he matches Sandin against, and when you include overtime and shootout losses, there is only a 1% drop from Sandin’s xGF% in wins compared to losses.

As for the coaching splits…

Coach Partner GP GF GA GF% CF CA CF% xGF xGA xGA% ES TOI/gm
Babcock Holl 6 2 2 50.00% 77 57 57.46% 2.71 2.61 50.94% 11:54
Keefe Ceci 22 13 19 40.63% 287 249 53.54% 11.21 12.42 47.44% 13:13
Total Ceci 28 15 21 41.67% 364 306 54.33% 13.92 15.03 48.08% 12:56

Most of the drop off under Keefe comes from the reality of the season, and while Babcock didn’t have Babcock on the blueline, Keefe has struggled with significant overlapped absences of Rielly, Muzzin, and Ceci, which led to Sandin playing increased minutes at times, and being paired with Liljegren as his primary partner in seven games.

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This seems like we’ve taken the round about why to those total numbers, which show some room for growth.

CF% CF/60 CA/60 GF% DFF% % of ice time
Elite 40.7 50.5 73.6 36.4 31.6 15.7%
Middle 56.3 60.7 47.1 53.8 53.8 42.7%
Gritensity 57.6 61.6 45.5 33.3 51.4 41.6%
via PuckIQ.com, Elite,Middle,and Gritensity based on opposition time on the ice. DFF= Dangerous Fenwick For

Looking at Sandin’s numbers where they’ve been binned by the level of competition he’s facing, we can see both a reluctance of Sheldon Keefe to play Sandin against top competition and numbers supporting that Sandin has struggled against that competition. Where Sandin has been quite serviceable in against the middle and bottom of the roster, in his limited 57 minutes of icetime against top competition at 5v5, he’s been on for 7 goals against.

This could be something that Sandin works out at the NHL level, and this is something that could improve with a strong partner (i.e. trying Dermott as a RD with him), but there is also that other factor…

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ASSET MANAGEMENT

Earl Schwartz touched on this point the other day in his article about the Leafs and the CBA…

If he is on the Leafs roster for 40 games he will accrue a professional season towards unrestricted free agency. It is important to note that he doesn’t actually have to play these games, just be on the roster. What that means for the Leafs is Sandin would become UFA at age 26 rather than 27, potentially making a contract extension more expensive or impacting their ability to sign a bridge. He’s currently on pace for 42 games on the roster I believe, so the Leafs may look to send him down for three games.

Earl goes on to note that it wouldn’t make sense to do this until Rielly’s return, he has since returned. He also notes that it could be beneficial to wait only the 3rd spot in the Atlantic is secured, and that is perhaps wise as well and giving Sheldon Keefe as many options as possible when filling out his lineup card is helpful. There is also the possibility of waiting out the return of Muzzin and sending Sandin down at the end of the season for three games, rather than doing so immediately, although I’d argue that if I planned on using Sandin in NHL playoff games at all, I’d want him to have played in as many recent NHL games as possible beforehand to have him ready.

Right now the Leafs are sitting on a rotation of Rosen, Marincin, and Sandin, and are also looking at an AHL roster who could benefit from a NHL defenseman to qualify for the playoffs. While the idea of making decisions to benefit the Marlies over the Leafs seems like poor reasoning, there is something to getting Sandin some quick reps, helping the Marlies get on track, and then bringing him back, especially when the Marincin-Barrie pairing hasn’t looked bad lately.

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There is also the strong possibility that the Leafs want to send a vote of confidence to Sandin that he is a NHLer now, and he won’t be a Marlie again. They may have committed to losing that year off of unrestricted free agency, and want to let Sandin know they believe in him. While I can respect that decision, it conflicts with the numbers around Sandin’s performance and doesn’t equate to the best long term decision, and I’d hope to see Rasmus sent to the AHL soon.